Here we go again….Old foes go to battle for the sixth time

Ulster Senior Club Camogie Final

Sunday 10th November 1pm in Páirc Esler

Loughgiel (Antrim) v Slaughtneil (Derry)

By Seamus McAleenan

NOT since Loughgiel beat them in the 2015 Ulster final in Owenbeg have Slaughtneil lost a game in championship camogie! Sunday’s opponents have become regular foes at this time of the seaon and counting the 2016 replay tomorrow’s game will be the sixth meeting between these great rivals in five seasons.

It was a remarkable achievement for the Derry champions to take the 2016 title that went to a replay in Glen, Maghera after a brilliant 1-8 each draw in the Athletic Grounds. The three Cassidy sisters had buried their father Thomas a couple of days before the drawn final.

Loughgiel captain Una McNaughton lifts the Ulster Club Championship trophy aloft as she celebrates with the team mates after their victory over Slaughtneil in 2105 final at Armagh Athletics Grounds. Pic by John McIlwaine

Even more remarkable was to go on and win the All-Ireland at their first attempt and then to hold on to the O’Carroll Cup through two further campaigns and complete three-in-a-row of titles on March 3rd this year as the snow descended on Croke Park.

The context is that only Belfast Rossa (in 2008) had ever taken the All-Ireland club title to Ulster and it probably took them five or six years of coming close before they actually made it over the line! No club before or since Rossa had won the title while their county was playing outside the senior All-Ireland grade – until Slaughtneil of course.

Yet over the past three years, the Derry super-club would agree that their biggest obstacle has been Loughgiel in the Ulster final.

Slaughtneil celebrate their wins in 2016 (left) after the replay in Glen Maghera and again in 2017 in Armagh Athletic Grounds.

Slaughtneil needed a very late goal from Mary Kelly to win that replay in Glen in 2016 after Loughgiel led for the whole game.

Similarly in the Athletic Grounds two years ago when the Shamrocks got out of the blocks quickly with two goals and held the lead right through until the last few minutes when Slaughtneil eventually wore them down and the introduction of Shannon Graham as a sub in the last quarter gave them the lift needed to secure a 2-10 to 3-5 win.

Last year O’Neill Park Dungannon was the venue for another great battle between the teams, although this time Slaughtneil led from the start and held out for a 0-11 to 0-8 victory.

Loughgiel, it cannot be forgotten, won back to back Ulster titles in 2014 and 2015 and five of the earlier team still remain in today’s lineout – Maeve Connolly, Shauna Devlin, Emma McMullan, Lucia McNaughton and Charlene (Hamill) Campbell.

The Loughgiel players form a guard of hnour for Slaughtneill as they go up to receive the cup after last year’s final at )’Neill Park, Dungannon.

Winners of nine of the ten minor titles in Antrim 2009-18, they have been able to introduce plenty of new, yet experienced, players into the team over the years including Amy Boyle, Anna Connolly and Roisin McCormick all of whom won back-to-back All-Ireland minor medals with Antrim last season.

Neither of the two teams are coming into the final with the same strong runs as last year in their own county where opponents by and large closed out their scoring threat resulting in tighter, lower-scoring games – much like last year’s provincial final. So that might well be how this final will develop.

Loughgiel will always have a great chance of winning their fifth Ulster title. But Slaughtneil’s experience, particularly in seeing out tight encounters, should see them make it four in a row.

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